Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder on the Rue Dauphine

Return to Cuba

In January 1998, an aging Fidel Castro granted permission to Pope John Paul II to visit Cuba. It was the first-ever papal visit to the communist stronghold.

Pope John Paul II with Fidel Castro
Pope John Paul II with Fidel Castro

Hundreds of priests from around the world joined the pope. Father Ramon Martinez of New Orleans was one of them. Reporters from New Orleans joined him on the historic trip.

In Havana, Ramon met up with one of his long-lost cousins, Nelson Martinez. The two men planned to drive to Ramon's hometown of Quivican in Nelson's early 1950s lime green Chevrolet. Shortly after they got underway, the Chevrolet's engine coughed and the car sputtered to a stop.

"This is a Cuban moment," Ramon joked to a reporter. "He ran out of gas."

In the sweltering tropical heat, the two cousins pulled a spare can of gas out of the trunk and dumped its contents into the car's fuel tank. With the antique Chevrolet revived, Ramon and Nelson continued their journey. Because of the unexpected stop and the sorry state of Cuban roads, the 25 mile trip took an hour and a half.

In Quivican, Ramon found relatives he'd never met. He gave them gifts of clothing, sheets, and towels. He passed out rosary beads, he talked, he cried.

"Even if I had stayed in Cuba, I would have been a priest," Ramon told The Times-Picayune. "Of course it would have been more difficult."

During his brief stay in Quivican, Ramon celebrated Mass at St. Peter the Apostle Church, where he had been baptized 37 years before.

For the prodigal son, it was an emotional return.

"I couldn't stop crying throughout the whole Mass," Ramon told the newspaper. "I've never celebrated a Mass with more enthusiasm and more love than in that town. They're so appreciative. You can tell they're starving for God."

Back in Havana, Ramon was there when the pope said Mass in Revolution Square. In the background, a newly erected 100-foot-tall portrait of Jesus hung beside an equally large picture of Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara. Christ and the killer given equal space.

Two months later, Father Ramon Martinez was dead, facedown and bloody, on the floor of a French Quarter hotel room.

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